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FRENCH OPEN NOTES

Spadea Makes Outlasting Impression

May 27, 2003|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

PARIS — Americans were involved in three of the longest, most intense matches of Monday, opening day at the French Open.

Vince Spadea, seeded 29th, fell behind two sets to one before finding a reserve he wasn't sure he had and outlasting Irakli Labadze of Georgia, 6-1, 3-6, 5-7, 6-4, 6-1.

Meghann Shaughnessy, seeded No. 18, was staggered early by Svetlana Kuznetsova before recovering to beat the woman better known as Martina Navratilova's doubles partner, 3-6, 7-5, 11-9.

And 24-year-old qualifier Alex Kim, who was trying to win his first tour-level clay-court match, squandered a two-set lead and lost to injury-cursed Mark Philippoussis, 2-6, 6-7 (1), 7-5, 6-2, 6-2.

"I did it the hard way," said Philippoussis, a big-serving Australian who had 25 aces, "but for me, I don't care how I do it as long as I come out with a win."

Spadea, 28, has made it to the third round of the French Open twice, including last year. Three hours after his match had ended, a weary Spadea said the best he could say about his day's work was: "It keeps hope alive. A win is a win. Now I get a day to rest." Spadea also got a lot of free points. Labadze had 107 unforced errors in the 3-hour 19-minute match.

"I didn't play my best," Spadea said. "I had to dig deep. I was remembering back to when I was playing challengers and how I had to fight for the smallest wins."

Kuznetsova, a 17-year-old Russian, kept Shaughnessy off balance by varying the pace with spins and slices. And in the third set Kuznetsova twice served for the match. "Saving those games," Shaughnessy said, "gives me a big boost for the rest of the tournament. I've been struggling on clay this year so to pull through a match like this is a big boost."

*

Because Serena Williams has lamented her lack of physical fitness at various points during this tennis season, and because she looked sleeker and moved more lightly on her feet in the opening match of her defense of her French Open title, Williams was asked if she had lost weight.

"I haven't stepped on a scale in about six, seven years," Williams said. "I never will step on a scale, so I'm not sure if I lost weight or not. I think it's an American thing. Pretty much every woman in America thinks she's overweight. I currently believe I need to lose 15 pounds. Even Venus says she needs to lose 15 pounds, which we know is ridiculous."

Venus Williams, Serena's older sister, is three inches taller than Serena and has always appeared to weigh less than Serena. "I am 135 pounds," Serena said. Then she laughed. "Muscle weighs a lot," she said.

*

Defending champion Albert Costa said Sunday that the French Open ball this year seems heavier. The consensus Monday was that Costa was on to something.

Carlos Moya, seeded fourth, said after beating Italy's Filippo Volandri, 7-6 (7), 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, "the perfect speed to be able to hit would be a little faster and the balls a little lighter than this one."

After his first-round upset loss to Luis Horna, fifth-seeded Roger Federer said, "The balls are a little soft. They're a little different than the ones I've played with so far."

Andre Agassi went so far as to say that "these balls are much heavier than I ever remember them being. Much heavier."

But that isn't a complaint, Agassi hastened to add.

"I've always prided myself on the ability to make adjustments, no matter what I was playing on, no matter what I was playing with," he said. "I feel like if you couldn't use a tennis racquet anymore and had to play with a baseball bat, as long as somebody else has to do it, I'm going to try and figure out how to do it a little bit better. I don't spend a lot of energy complaining about the situation."

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